I am going to admit something: I tear up ever time I see a commercial about Tasmanian Devils.
I hate to admit when I get weepy over animals because I’m used to people discounting vegetarians as ‘sappy’ people who have unrealistic, romantic notions about animals. “Nature is cruel, and vegetarians don’t want to admit it,” they will say.
Well, yes, I suppose nature is cruel, if you want to ascribe human characteristics to it. I, however, prefer to just admit that I like the natural environment and the animals that live in it. Always have. Vegetarian or not, I don’t think there’s anything illogical or overly emotional about that.
But back to the Tassie devils. If you don’t live in Australia, then you might not know that there is a devastating disease affecting the Tasmanian devil population right now called Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD). The disease is one of only three known cancers that is contagious, and it has affected at least 60% of the Tasmanian devil population. The disease was first discovered in 1996, and by 2009 the Australian government had declared the devil to be endangered. For more information on the disease, see the FAQ’s here.
I couldn’t find the commercial online, but here’s something similar [WARNING: Some of the images in this video of the disease are disturbing.]:
I am not sure what it is about this problem that makes me so emotional. There are a lot of animals in danger throughout the world for various reasons, and I think about those as well; but there is something about this issue that really nags at me. I know that it is only human to focus on iconic species (e.g. the bald eagle, the giant panda), particularly those that seem to represent an entire place. The Tasmanian devil fits that bill. Perhaps it is the fact that this disease is spreading so rapidly and that it doesn’t have a simple solution, unlike species extinctions that are driven almost entirely by land use change. Perhaps it is because I watched too much Looney Tunes as a kid. Whatever it is, it’s something that I can’t seem to get out of my head.
I hope to organise a fundraiser for the Tassie Devil Appeal in the next year, but in the meantime my intention with this post is simply to encourage others to learn more about the DFTD and donate if they desire. To do both, visit the official page of the Tassie Devil Appeal. Have a look around at the information, research, videos (they even have ‘home movies‘) and the images. Visit the appeal on Facebook or the program on Facebook here.
I also recommend reading the news on the topic when you can. One of the things I think that touches me about this campaign is that they have done a good job in balancing the gravity of the situation with the sense of self-efficacy. Far too many environmental campaigns focus too evil on the fire and brimstone, and lose sight of the fact that you need to provide people with a sense that their actions will be effective. The situation is very serious, but there is good news to be found in the research, e.g.
Finally, just for fun: if you want a clue as to why they are called devils, watch them eat! It also provides a clue as to why this disease spreads so easily. They do not take kindly to another devil trying to get a bite of their meal.